By Roy Edwards
Back when I was Commodore of the Houston Canoe Club, we planned an Easter time multi-day weekend camping and canoeing at the Pine Island Lodge on Lake Caddo.
Quietly canoeing through the forest, is an experience never forgotten. The birds, the magnificent age-old Cypress trees, the Spanish Moss and wildlife encountered made the drive from Houston worthwhile.
About 15 miles northeast of Marshall, Texas, in northeast Texas, Big Cypress Bayou runs west to east into Louisiana. On the eastern end of it, there was a huge centuries-old log jam. The waters of the bayou slowed and spread out, forming a large swampy area filled with enormous Bald Cypress trees. This area was and still is the home of the Caddo Indians.
Caddo became a lake, according to the story I was told, after the night of Dec. 14, 1811, when the Caddo chief had a vision in which the great Spirit told him,” Tomorrow night, I will walk your hunting grounds. Your world will shake with my footsteps, and many wonderous things will happen. Move your people from the shores of the bayou onto the tops of the surrounding hills so that they are safe from my journey.”
The tribe moved away from the bayou. Just after midnight in the early morning of Dec. 16, 1811, the earth shook violently: Indians fell to the ground, shelters collapsed, and great trees toppled. It was part of the New Madrid earthquakes.
Centered in New Madrid on the Mississippi River in what is now the state of Missouri, the initial earthquake registered as 7.2 - 8.2 of movement magnitude. An aftershock on the same day registered 7.4.
Two similar-force earthquakes followed in January and February 1812. Strong tremors were felt across 50,000 square miles of the central continent, and moderate tremors rippled across one million square miles were felt as far away as Canada.
The strongest earthquake in recorded history between the Rocky Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean liquified soil, and buildings disappeared beneath solid ground. But this was sparsely occupied frontier, and no estimates of death or injury were calculated. The Mississippi River ran backwards.
The sternwheeler, Yellowstone, the boat that played multiple roles in the Texas Revolution, was under attack and being pursued down the Mississippi by hostile Indians in war canoes.
The Yellowstone was saved by the earthquake and its influence on the river. The war chief decided if the white man’s medicine was that strong, they should break off their attack and go home.
At daybreak, the Caddos gazed in awe at their new environment. The slow-moving murky bayou was now Caddo Lake, the largest natural lake in Texas.
It is odd in many ways. It’s the only lake in Texas with a native population of Chain Pickerel, which looks like a small Muskie. It’s not as much of a lake as a flooded Cypress forest. Huge Cypress giants festooned with Spanish Moss dominate the Texas section of it.
Caddo is primitive, spooky, beautiful, and a lake like no other. You expect to see a dinosaur rise from the lake any time.
If you boat Caddo unprepared, you will get lost. Stop at Caddo Lake State Park, or in Karnak, or Uncertain - yes, there is a town of Uncertain, Texas - to get a lake boating road map.
After years of sending search parties to find lost boaters, the state cut crisscrossing boat roads through the trees, then drove upright telephone poles along the boat roads with arrow type signs pointing to B2, C6, A3, etc. If you don’t have a map, you will get lost. Trust me.
Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Passover, so we always had beautiful full-moon nights for our trip.
One moonlight trip was especially unforgettable. That Saturday night we experienced a big full moon in a cloudless sky. The stars were out in all their glory. The wind was dead calm, and the lake was like a mirror with moon-lit shadows reflecting the Cypress trees off the water.
I suggested a two-hour canoe trip with two rules – no lights, no noise. A dozen or so fellow campers agreed to come along. I agreed to lead the trip. Jan took the bow of my Mohawk Ranger, and I settled into the stern.
The trip promised to be fantastic. The moon’s reflection laid down a silver path for us to follow. Other than a few night birds, it was totally silent. The paddlers used an “Indian” stroke so that the paddle never left the water, making no sound except the gentle hiss of water on the bow as we slipped forward. It was utter peace.
We had been on the water for about 30 minutes when we came to a gap between two tree lines. I was paddling on my left side as we approached the opening.
As I glanced left, I saw a wake, paralleling the far side of the tree line. A large beaver was swimming on a tack that would take him across our bow. I was sure Jan had seen the beaver, and being in stealth mode, I decided to say nothing.
The problem was that Jan didn’t see the beaver coming.
The beaver was about a foot off our bow when it spooked. When alarmed, beavers do two things. First, they slap their large tails against the surface of the water, and then they dive.
When that beaver slapped the water, if sounded like a 12-gauge shotgun going off. Jan jumped, from a seated position, about a foot straight up. The canoe rocked, but thankfully did not capsize. The spray from the beaver’s slap soared at least six feet into the air and formed a perfect arch in the gap between the trees. The moonlight was coming through the spray, and Jan was silhouetted in an arch of sparkling diamonds. From my position in the stern of the canoe, it was breathtaking.
In the bow, Jan was scared, sopping wet and cold. She was not nearly as impressed as I was.
You should put a canoe trip to Lake Caddo on your bucket list.
When someone asks you where you went, answer, “Uncertain.” You’ll get some strange looks. But don’t forget to buy a boat road map - and watch for beavers.
(To contact Roy, please send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, Tx. 77516)